Wellington, Fla – Feb. 28, 2018 – Dressage riders, trainers and enthusiasts were in for a treat Wednesday evening during an educational masterclass with Olympic gold medalist, Carl Hester, MBE at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. In front of a packed stadium, Hester taught six 30-minute lessons beginning with a young horse and going up to Grand Prix level.
“As riders, we all develop our own system — hopefully it is a horse friendly system,” Hester said. “Whatever you decide your aids are, stick with it. You have to stick with it. The horse learns from repetition and being black and white. Remember, when we are training, you must stick with your aids and not constantly change them when the horse doesn’t react correctly the first time.”
In each lesson, Hester addressed common weaknesses or problems he sees as a trainer as riders work up the levels.
“We all know whatever level you are competing at 70 percent is a great benchmark. Unfortunately now if you want to medal you have to be looking toward scores in the 80s and 90s like Charlotte Dujardin. Not that all of us are like her but we have to aspire to something,” Hester joked. “The great thing though is we all have problems and we all need exercises to help us. Everything should have a purpose and treat every transition like a golden one.”
5-Year-Old — Soren Wind and Just Perfect
Hester’s first pair of the evening was Soren Wind and Just Perfect, a 5-year-old gelding from Helgstrand Dressage. At the beginning of the lesson, Hester stressed the importance of finding a good walk and canter in a young horse, focusing less on looking for a flashy trot.
“If your aim is to do the Grand Prix, the horse’s walk and canter are the most important,” Hester explained. “In dressage tests, the highest scoring movements are given a coefficient of 2. If you look at the Grand Prix test, the canter movements have a coefficient of 2, in the pirouettes, the changes – the walk has that coefficient as well.”
As the lesson went on, Hester explained the making of a good Grand Prix horse – the horse needs to be calm, able to relax and not be spooky. He praised Just Perfect for showing all of these characteristics. Hester moved on to stress the importance of gymnasticizing a young horse.
“In order to gymnasticize your horse, he needs to be able to stretch, collect, bend and straighten,” Hester explained. “You use these ideas when training to get your horse through and supple so he uses himself.”
Hester had Wind ride Just Perfect on a circle where they worked on shortening the horse’s canter steps while encouraging the gelding to stretch his neck out.
“The horse has to be able to use his neck,” Hester continued. “If the neck is short then the balance ends up on your hands or totally behind the bridle. Your half halts start to open the neck – keep giving and re-taking the reins. Take the reins for two or three strides, then generously give the reins out. Ideally, the horse will take the bit and stretch forward when you give.”
When working on the horse’s trot, Hester had the pair work on collecting the trot to almost a walk, then pushing the horse back out into a forward trot to help him find a longer frame.
“We want small steps without pressure,” Hester explained. “Small steps with a light hand and light leg to encourage impulsion. With this horse we want the smaller steps to be quicker and the forward steps to be a little longer in order to keep the hind legs in balance. Remember that a half halt always means balance – remember to always rebalance.”
FEI Junior Rider — Jade Ellery and Porche’s Eloy
Up next was junior rider from Great Britain Jade Ellery and Porche’s Eloy. Last year, the pair was on the European junior team for Great Britain and competed in the European Championships.
With this pair, Hester stressed the importance of using half halts with an independent seat to achieve self-carriage and regulate the rhythm and tempo of the horse’s gaits.
“In an environment like this, use stretchy gaits in order to achieve relaxation first [before moving into collected work],” Hester explained. “This horse shows collection but not self-carriage. I should be able to walk beside you while you’re cantering so he can start to find suspension. The front of your body needs to be longer than your back. Don’t hold him and he should stay there until you tell him to go forward. Think hips through your hands. This brings your core stronger.”
In order to help the horse achieve true self-carriage, Hester had Ellery focus on the braids on her horse’s neck and suggested using half halts to encourage the horse to lift his neck.
“The braid comes higher between his ears,” Hester explained. “Bring his poll to the highest point. Don’t push when he is coming up, ride with a soft leg and let his neck come up with your half halt. Keep your hand in front of the saddle – when your hand is forward you’re riding from back to front. When your hand is in front of the saddle with longer reins, it’s a backward hand. You want to be able to bring the horse back on the spot with a forward hand so he has free will to go back to being forward.”
Once the pair achieved a higher degree of self-carriage, Hester moved on to working on improving the pair’s walk pirouettes. When Ellery allowed her horse to step out of the pirouette too early, Hester had a solution.
The pair began by walking a half pass on a diagonal line, finishing with a walk pirouette around him to turn around.
“Your ending is what needs the work,” Hester observed. “When he gets too short in the neck he finds it difficult to turn off your outside leg if you use too much inside leg. Use your inside leg as a post to bend around but don’t be so strong that he doesn’t want to move and bend around it. Don’t slow down too much going into the pirouette. The golden rule of a walk or canter pirouette is more forward in the second half, don’t make it slower and slower.”
To end the lesson, Hester had the pair work on their medium trots across the diagonal.
“Getting a good medium trot is the build-up of power,” he explained. “Use an active seat on the short side to gain power, and then a passive seat so he can relax his back. If you push, you’ll probably push him on his forehand. Get a reaction on the short side, turn on the diagonal and release him.”
FEI Young Rider – Rakeya Moussa and Davidoff van het Trichelhof
Canadian Rakeya Moussa has been focusing on improving upon her success at last year’s North American Young Rider Championships with the 10-year-old gelding Davidoff van het Trichelhof. Right from the beginning of her lesson, Hester emphasized the importance of her mount accepting the bit.
“Sometimes a horse is born with a mouth like a brick and other times he is born with a soft mouth,” Hester explained. “A riders job is to make the mouth better. If strong you teach it to be soft, if it’s light you teach it to take the contact. In my opinion, the horses that don’t accept the bit are more difficult.”
When the horse is not keen on accepting the bit by being slightly behind it and not pushing into the contact, Hester recommended riding canter-trot transitions on a 20-meter circle. He also suggested the rider to bring her knuckles closer together as that stabilizes the bit more than a wider-hand set.
“Let him feel the bit,” Hester continued. “I remember going to a judges seminar with Stephen Clarke and he asked, ‘What do you do if the horse doesn’t take the contact?’ Many answered, ‘Send him more forward.’ Which is true but what if that fails or is not enough? If the horse won’t take the contact, you have to take up the contact. The horse must learn how to feel your contact and push to the bit. Be effective in a positive and relaxed way. Encourage him to push to the hand and be still.
Instead of lifting his head and dropping his back, Hester had the pair work on transitions and shoulder-in on the circle to encourage him to lift his middle.
“A horse who is changing his rhythm is not supple in his back,” he said. “Can you influence him with your seat? See if you can make him slower just with your seat. He has 23 hours to sleep and he can put his head, however, he likes then. When you are riding, influence him in a positive way.”
Moussa wanted to work on improving the quality of their flying changes. Instead of practicing the changes on the diagonal, he moved the exercise to the wall. Hester had Moussa collect the gelding on the spot in the canter so she achieved a more uphill outline and improved the balance. Then they would ride forward for three strides and ask for the change. They continued that exercise by immediately making her wait again, collect, then ask for three forward strides and ask for another change.
“What corrects a crooked change is more forward riding, but what I’d like for him to learn is that he must come back immediately after the change,” Hester said. “He needs to sit up and wait for you. He also needs to learn to jump forward and not jump sideways. What may help is to tap him with a whip when you ask so he jumps forward not sideways. The whip is not to make him quicker, it’s to encourage him to react.
FEI Small Tour – Chase Shipka and Zigal
The fourth pair of the night was small tour rider Chase Shipka and her horse Zigal. Previously this pair had competed at the 2017 North American Junior Young Rider Championships where they won the gold medal in the young rider freestyle.
Shipka came into the clinic wanting to work on pirouettes, so Hester started out by evaluating how straight she could ride on a line. When straightness was an issue for the pair, Hester had them work on turning from the outside rein. To do this, he had them work on riding a square, performing quarter pirouettes to make their turns.
“You have to turn your horse from the outside,” Hester explained. “Slow him down through your upper body and forget the left bend for a minute – just bring his shoulder across.”
As they worked on turning from the outside, Zigal started to get hotter and Hester encouraged Shipka to use her leg, even when the horse got fired up.
“When the horse is a bit hot and nervous, you get to put your leg on,” Hester continued. “The principal rule is if your horse is really hot, you’ve got to put your legs on. If they’re really lazy you take your leg off. Think about almost putting your ankles on his sides and ride him from your ankles. You want to try to bring him back on the spot with very little pressure in your hands.”
Once the pair got turning under control, Hester introduced them to canter pirouettes by working shoulder-in to travers on a 10-meter circle.
“A working pirouette is all about a working pace,” Hester explained. “No slowing down, he needs clarity in his rhythm and he needs to be quick. Don’t let him change the rhythm, he needs to maintain a forward rhythm and a high tempo. Sit there and collect to make the pirouette.”
Moving on from the pirouettes, Hester began to address the pairs flying changes. He observed that the horse tended to make his changes tight and not as expressive so he suggested slowing Zigal’s canter tempo down.
“Think slow,” Hester coaxed. “The slower he goes, the more suspension he gets in the change if you let him get quicker his changes become tighter. Keep your right leg forward when changing to the right lead to give more freedom to come that way.”
With a single change mastered, the pair moved on to working on tempi changes. Starting with a change every four strides, they worked their way down to changes every stride. To keep the horse straight and supple, Hester had Shipka leg yield to the right, ask for six single tempi changes and then continue to leg yield right after the sixth change.
“Leg yield to the right to make him relax and be straight,” Hester encouraged. “Ask for the six ones after the leg yield. Only do six changes because he gets nervous. Don’t be greedy! Have him do six changes, make him relax by leg yielding again then you can do more. Make sure you take a deep breath and keep your heel deep – keep your hands loose, he has to learn to do this without the tension in the hand. It’s all about the quality of the change, we want good quality.”
Developing Grand Prix – Austin Webster and Abercrombie TF
The next pair up was Austin Webster and Abercrombie TF, an 8-year-old gelding who is working on developing the Grand Prix. From the beginning, Hester addressed keeping Abercrombie TF’s trot as a correct trot and not letting him get into one that was too similar to a passage.
“This is something you need to feel in your seat,” Hester explained. “If you sit too heavy, the horse gives you a heavy stride, it’s like if he’s feeling comfortable, he’s probably going too slow. You have to think about your seat having a quicker bounce to it so we can get the horse to be more genuine from the hind legs.”
Hester praised Webster for his good use of the shoulder-fore movement to encourage his young horse to stretch down and relax more into the trot and going into the walk.
“Shoulder-fore is a small feeling,” Hester explained. “It’s smaller than we can see sometimes. We use it to keep his hind legs under him.”
“To make the walk better, turn up the centerline and do a tiny serpentine,” Hester advised. “Bend him left, bend him right, bend him left, bend him right. Loosen him up and then give him a long rein to see if he’ll take his topline forward.”
“Teach him to almost walk on the spot until he feels like he’ll stay on the ground longer,” he continued. “He’s walking a bit like he’s on hot coals. Make him walk smaller in the shoulder-in, you want a more natural rhythm.”
Hester encouraged Webster to continue to break the horse’s stride down so he had complete control over it.
“Break it down until he is literally picking up one leg at a time,” Hester continued. “You need to be in a position where you tell him to go forward. If the horse gets you into this position, then you can’t use your legs. He’s really talented but we have to get him rideable from the leg.”
After working on achieving a proper rhythm in the walk and trot, Hester had the pair move on to working on schooling the passage. To improve the quality and rhythm of the passage, Hester had Webster ride a leg yield in the passage while posting.
“Passage in the leg yield to keep him from getting slow,” Hester said. “I want less movement – the horse is doing too much with his legs. He throws his legs and it makes his back go down. Think about keeping his front legs closer to the ground. He needs to learn to trot with his hind legs and learn a different type of passage. Shorten his passage, make it smaller with less legs – let him find his regularity through relaxation. Doing less is giving you more. When you use your leg more with him, he gives you too much, when you let him offer it to you it makes a better picture.”
Grand Prix – Jan Ebeling and Indeed V
The last horse-and-rider combination consisted of Olympian Jan Ebeling and a 10-year-old Danish Warmblood mare, Indeed V. Under Ebeling’s training the pair has competed up to the Intermediate I and is getting ready to compete at the Grand Prix level.
The first thing Hester addressed was proper body alignment of the rider so the horse could be in correct self-carriage. Once that was discussed, Ebeling began to warm up the mare in shoulder-fore at the trot before moving on to working on the Grand Prix half-pass movement.
“The half-pass is a great way to realize if the horse is supple and athletic,” Hester explained. “This horse has a beautiful half-pass and an easy, swinging rhythm but is lacking impulsion at the moment. Think about her collected trot as a slightly more contained medium trot. Think about your heels being connected to her hind legs and create the energy from them. You want to collect her then grow into your half-pass, open her neck up as you go.”
Hester stressed the importance of using the arena’s corners, especially in the Grand Prix test, as the pair continued to make their way around the arena.
“The corners are one of the most important parts of the test,” Hester explained. “Everything happens in the corners so it’s important that the horse doesn’t lose impulsion going through them.”
In the canter, Hester wanted to improve the quality of the mare’s stride and had the pair work on leg yields in the canter to create more suppleness as well as improving the quality of her flying changes.
“Think more forward and sideways,” Hester coached. “Instead of her slowing down, I want her to increase her impulsion with a light hand from you – be quicker from your leg. Doing the leg yields with the changes in them helps make the changes have a better quality, in the half pass she goes from one side to the other and you miss the straightness part for the change in the middle.”
When working on the leg yields, Hester was quick to note how the mare caught on to counting the sideways strides of the movement. To keep her on her toes, Hester suggests doing six strides sideways and doing some sideways sections with seven strides so the mare never really knew which one was coming.
Next, they moved on to improving the quality of the mare’s piaffe. To do so, Hester tapped the mare’s hind legs with a whip from the ground, while Ebeling gave her the cues.
“Working a horse in hand is an art,” Hester explained. “If you touch them in the wrong place and wrong moment you can concern them. I’ve got to get the hind legs in each step with the whip in the right place. If I come under her hocks with the whip at each step like this, for me, that’s where the accelerator needs to be quicker. She’s not a lazy horse, I’m just helping her with the speed button.”
Moving onto the passage, Hester had Ebeling work on making the passage smaller so it wasn’t as difficult for the mare to move in and out of the piaffe.
“Horses this age find it difficult to get a great big passage back into a piaffe,” Hester advised. “The smaller passage lets her be more active behind and increases the chances of her being able to make a good piaffe. To work on this, make a really forward passage and bring it back almost to a piaffe, but then let her back out.”
At the end of all of his lessons, Hester stressed the importance of letting the horses stretch their necks and backs out properly while maintaining contact with the bit and having them work properly from their hind ends. By letting the horses stretch down, the riders were allowing them to stretch their backs out and allowed the horses to relax their toplines.